Residential energy management is considered a big piece of Smart Grid benefits. But the industry must do a better job of clarifying what those benefits mean to residents. Hand waving explanations and reliance on ratepayer faith in the local utility just won’t work anymore.
A report issued by Accenture, based on a survey of more than 9,000 consumers in 17 countries, found that the majority don’t want utilities to manage their electricity usage without paying generously for the privilege. Only 29 percent of consumers trust their electricity suppliers to help them optimize their electricity use. (See article Consumers Unwilling to Allow Electricity Suppliers to Remotely Limit Energy Use Without Significant Price Discount.)
This consumer reluctance could be a significant speed bump in Smart Grid development and application because energy management and optimization is what Smart Grid is mostly all about.
Then there’s the surprising strength and recent growth of public distrust of government and big corporations.
A recent Pew Research Center poll (Distrust, Discontent, Anger and Partisan Rancor) found that only 22 percent of Americans trust the federal government to do the right thing most of the time. Almost half of the poll respondents think the government has a negative effect on their day-to-day lives. Americans tend to see both the government and big business in the same light – only about 25 percent said either one has a positive impact on the nation.
Combining and summarizing the implications of these reports, it looks like most consumers don’t even want a utility to manage their energy use unless it pays generously for the privilege. They also don’t have much trust that a big company, like a utility, can do it right.
Then there’s the privacy issue - consumers are wary of anyone monitoring their household activities – even if it’s just keeping track of appliance use.
They’re also suspicious that, whatever is done, it probably isn’t for the consumer benefit anyway. Somebody’s making a buck, and it sure isn’t the little guy.
Needless to say, the majority of the respondents probably won’t be swayed by a Department of Energy argument that residential Smart Grid gadgets are good for people and good for the planet. And the offer to enable folks to monitor their household electrical usage, as joyous and intriguing as that may be, will soon wear thin. Like watching paint dry.
Widespread acceptance of many smart grid applications will depend upon economical incentives.
And these better be clear, near term and significant.